All throughout the ages the mystery had remain a secret.
Raymond Beresford Hamilton
The warmth of summer hung around a bit longer this year, but the recent chill in the air signaled its end. The orange glow of autumn illuminated the mountainside on the far horizon and in the backdrop tunneled rays of the rising sun. All around, maple tree leaves pushed by the chilly breeze tumbled over well-worn roadways under the gray December sky.
Julian DePaul, Sr., parked his SUV in the parking spot reserved for maintenance vehicles, between the tall, prestigious, brick buildings. He heard what he thought was a terrified man’s scream cut through the early morning stillness. Julian straightened his posture, killed his headlights, cut off his vehicle’s engine, and listened with interest. The maple tree leaves echoed sounds, but Julian was certain the scream had come from inside one of the nearby buildings.
His family owned a local janitorial services business. They advertised their business in the local papers as having had over twenty years’ janitorial services experience and expertise in the field. They boasted their specialty in providing services to fit any business’ needs, whether it be a public school, university, hospital, daycare center, private office, gym, or locker room. They had the flexibility to schedule their custodial activities around normal business hours so there would be little or no interference in normal business routines. They emphasized their complete compliance with established government standards, and all their employees were required to complete a professional janitorial training program and be certified.
Julian worked hard under the tutelage of his father to learn the business. His choice of career had been a no-brainer. He spent most of his free time helping his old man gather necessary supplies and equipment. Julian learned to operate all the floor waxing, buffing, sterilizing, and cleaning machines his father owned. After his graduation from high school, he earned his professional janitorial certification and went to work with his father. His father was more than happy to have him and immediately changed the company’s name to DePaul and Son Janitorial Services.
Over the years, the family business grew steadily and developed into a very respectable and profitable business. DePaul and Son Janitorial Services secured one of the bigger cleaning contracts in the area when it was hired by Princeton University to maintain the university’s facilities, classrooms, and office buildings.
By then, Julian and his father no longer had to perform any of the actual physical cleaning of the facilities their company was contracted to maintain. They had plenty of good employees working under their guidance. Instead, Julian had begun inspecting full time while his father worked to secure new contracts for the company. Julian made it his business to inspect all the work performed by his employees the previous night. He made rounds at every facility under contract early, each morning, before his employees reported to work.
This morning, Julian couldn’t determine exactly where the unusual scream, he heard, had come from. Maybe it had been his imagination. When he couldn’t sit there waiting any longer, he got out of his SUV, stood, and listened carefully one last time. A shutter banged against a window, and wind rustled dried leaves in the trees. He saw the shadow of a huge, unusual looking, bird as it flew overhead.
Julian hunched his shoulders and zipped his jacket tight to keep warm against the early morning chill. He glanced down at his wristwatch—6:45 am—as he began his daily inspections.
He walked along the narrow walkway until he reached the front door, which he pushed open to enter the building. Inside, Julian walked slowly through the narrow corridors of Princeton University’s Economics Department. His practiced eye carefully swept over the work performed by his employees the night before, taking in every detail as he peered through the muted light. Everything seemed normal—clean, shiny floors.
He walked around corners, opened doors, and slid his fingers over sills. The corridor was peaceful and quiet. He heard no sounds—all quiet.
Faculty members weren’t due to arrive for another hour or so. Julian reached Professor Mayweather’s office at the end of the corridor and idly turned the knob. He was sure his employees knew to lock office doors behind them. To his surprise, the knob turned. He sighed. What’s this?
Julian hesitated. Mayweather often came in early, and they sometimes chatted about economics, but the professor usually left the door ajar when he was in. Julian paused and listened for a moment. He didn’t hear anyone inside; neither did he smell the coffee Mayweather unfailingly brewed each morning. The professor must be out of coffee, he decided.
Julian knew every man on the crew who cleaned the Economics Department, and he couldn’t remember any of them ever leaving a door unlocked.
“Dr. Mayweather?” Julian called. He waited a few seconds and then knocked. “Professor, are you here?”
Julian eased the door open. The horrible stench inside pushed him back a step. It was like nothing he’d ever encountered, and as the owner of a janitorial service, he’d encountered plenty. The rank odor had a burnt quality to it, like ozone, but without the freshness of rain that usually accompanied lightning. This smelled more like terror, or death, or even something worse.
Julian covered his nose and mouth with one hand and glanced around the room. At first, everything seemed normal. A scatter of papers littered the nice, shiny black leather couch and love seat that he’d always admired. Nothing looked knocked over or disturbed. Light glinted off the edge of a picture frame sitting on the professor’s desk. But behind the desk…
A chill rushed through Julian’s entire body. The hair on the back of his neck stood on end. He felt sick to his stomach, and a sharp ringing started in his ears. Sitting in Professor Mayweather’s chair behind his desk was the horrifying sight of a mummified body. Its eyes and mouth gaped wide in what looked like excruciating pain. Its hair stood straight up on its head, like dried needles from a pine tree, and its skin was a dark bluish color dried and sucked tightly to the skull beneath.
End of excerpt. This post is and excerpt and format differs from actual novel.
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